PH open to US bases

Manila, Philippines ---- Amid North Korea's nuclear threat, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin yesterday said the United States may be allowed to open military bases in the country in case of "extreme emergency."

"Well right now our Constitution does not allow that (setting of new American or any foreign military bases) but in cases of extreme emergency then there are extreme measures to be undertaken... maybe this is one of them," said Gazmin, without elaborating constitutes "cases of extreme emergency."
The defense chief made the statement when asked if the United States can set up military bases in the Philippines "in case something happens" in the face of explicit nuclear threats by North Korea.

He likewise clarified that at the moment, the defense and military departments have not raised alert level despite rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

"We are still on normal alert level," said the defense chief, noting that even in North and South Korea it's still business as usual.

But he also stressed that the government is prepared to evacuate the 43,000 Filipinos working in the Korean peninsula in a shooting war erupts.

"The Air Force has three Lockheed C-130 'Hercules' aircraft in stand-by while the Navy has the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15)," Gazmin said, adding this is the first time that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has the stand-by capability to evacuate its nationals without resorting to its allies.

In the same interview, Gazmin said while the government does not allow any foreign military to set up a permanent base at the moment, there is increased rotational presence of American troops in the country who are involved in exercises and training.

While the 1987 Constitution bans permanent foreign military bases in the country, American maintains close military ties with the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Through the MDT and VFA, US military forces have actively engaged their Philippines counterparts in bilateral exercise such as the ongoing "Balikatan," which is now on its 29th iteration.

The US also has about 500 forces temporarily deployed in Mindanao under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P). JSOTF-P, which operates under the Special Operations Command, has maintained its presence in the south since 2002.

Last week at the opening of the Balikatan exercise, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said the Philippines is bound to help the US in case North Korea will make good its threat of a nuclear attack.

"I think as treaty allies, if there is an attack we should help one another which is what the treaty alliance is all about," he said.

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